The Local Community of Šebrelje: the Divje Babe site and its plateau


“Do you know where Šebrelje is?” “No …”
“Have you heard of Divje Babe (Eng. wild women)?”
“Oh, yes, there are plenty of those …” says the other person carefully.
“I mean Divje Babe and the Neanderthal flute, you have heard of them, haven’t you?”
The other person nods in relief now, of course, he has already heard of the oldest musical instrument in the world.
“Well, this is where I come from!”
“Aha! And the women – are you still wild there?” What am I supposed to do, but give him a long look?

It is both easy and difficult to write about the Local Community of Šebrelje from far away. Easier because some things become concentrated and simpler from a distance and more difficult since the village of my childhood has changed in a couple of decades. It is unnecessary to be swept away with enthusiasm about the good old days, but if you had seen that buckwheat field on the Ivanček farm or smelled the currant in the fruit orchards of the Pagon or Palek farms, if you had gone to make hay with the mowers and rakers to “Vrhi”, if you had heard Janez also known as Završčkarsk tell his epic tales, you would understand me. Instead of buckwheat there are houses now, football is being played on what used to be currant orchards, and “Vrhi” are slowly growing back in. This is how this goes. Šebrelje can be reached from all four cardinal points: in the south from Stopnik on what is now a rather wide and comfortable enough road, which is not reminiscent of the gravel road the Italians built anymore, in the east from the valley of the Kanomljica brook via Oblakov Vrh and Šebreljski Vrh on a gravel road, in the north from the village of Jagršče on a quite narrow road and in the west on foot from the valley of Idrijca on an old mule track to the Church of St. John the Baptist. This path is the most beautiful. Once you reach the top, pleasant flat areas will open up, surrounded by little forests and with views of mountains and hills like Peči, Kojca, Porezen, Blegoš, and even further. From early spring on a surprising number of flowers bloom on those meadows or the overhanging walls under the plateau: hairy alpenrose, hellebore, golden apple, dog’s tooth violet, and lily of the valley … a paradise for botanists.

Shall we continue on to the village? Or villages?

Šebrelje (in dialect: Šebrejle, the residents are called Šebrejlenci, the village is the southernmost of all the settlements in the Cerkno municipality) is composed of four settlements: Dolenja Vas, Srednja Vas, Gorenja Vas, and Kurji Vrh. Its past position in the area, which used to make the village more beautiful, was ruined by unplanned building over the last 40 years. According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia, the village has 137 housing units and 333 residents in 110 households, and the number of women is of course slightly bigger than that of men. The number of villagers has not been decreasing recently, which is good, but the biggest population (900) lived in this area in 1860. The beginnings of the village go as far back as the 12th or even 11th century, but the etymologists have not figured out its name yet. The land register of Tolmin from 1377 gives evidence of 13 farmhouses in the village of Sibrielge (in 1633 the name Subrelia is listed).

A man known as Iwančkau had to go to Idrija on foot in 1947. He got up at three o’clock in the morning and took the route via Oblakov Vrh. At seven he had already reached the old town square. Right at that moment a truck drove up from the agricultural cooperative and made a circle round the square. The diver opened the door and asked: “Is anyone going to Šebrelje, since I’m also going there?” “Well, I can’t miss such an opportunity,” said Iwančkau and drove back without taking care of his errands. Instead he woke up early on the next day again.

In 1866 following a split from Šentviška Gora the village became a municipal center (up until 1927). The villagers voted for their mayors, founded a savings and loan institution, and established a farmers’ reading society (1883), which was of great importance. Šebrelje was the most progressive in this respect among the villages in the Cerkno region. Fresh air lured even the genteel vacationers from Trieste. Then the Great War started, the First World War, and tunnels and caverns, built by Bosnians, were cut into the edge of the plateau – these formed part of the defensive line from Bukovo to Reka and to the Church of St. John the Baptist (St. Ivan) and then on the western edge of the plateau to Oblakov Vrh and Vojsko. This was the hinterland of the Isonzo or Soča Front and the villagers were uncertain if the front was going to move there. It did not. The war ended and the monument at the cemetery next to the parish Church of St. George, which was put up already in 1922, reminds us of the death toll of 46 boys and men – when the monument was unveiled in 1922, the ceremony was attended by Slovene representatives of the parliament in Rome as well. This ceremony was one of the last in the occupied territory of the Primorska region. In June 2015, at the blessing of the Church of St. John the Baptist (St. Ivan), a memorial sign was unveiled in memory of the events of that time and the recently acquired notes from the diaries C and K of colonel Alois von Harl were presented.

During WWII the village suffered immensely on 9 June 1944 when Germans burnt all the houses and shot six innocent people and took some to a concentration camp. The effects of this suffering remained on the houses for long – and on the people as well.

Despite being remote from major centers, having bad road connections, no “state” electricity (the villagers ensured electricity supply with two village power plants), and with wells for rainwater, the village had managed to stay alive – electricity came, waterworks were laid, a better road was built at the end of the 70s, the bus started driving, phones started ringing … Jobs in Cerkno, Spodnja Idrija, Idrija, and Tolmin provided new housing. Old, firm, and resilient people, women and men, sometimes also of an odd character, are gone, but life in the village remains: of course they have a firefighting department, a sports club, and Texas is one of the most original clubs far and wide as it is, entertaining the young at heart and sometimes outraging those who are or at least those who act older.

There was an earthquake in 1976. The ground was shaking hard, but the boys kept sitting in the social center. Nothing could interrupt them. Only Vida, also known as Hantava, came running down to look for her son Jakob: “Jakob, quickly, drive the car to the garage, because there’s an earthquake!”

The Šebrelje stuffed pork stomach (Slov. Šebreljski želodec)

A coworker in Ljubljana asked me once, what the biggest Slovene secret was. I didn’t know. “The Šebrelje stuffed pork stomach. Everyone has heard of it, but no one has eaten it yet!” he replied gruffly.

The production of the Šebrelje stuffed pork stomach goes somewhere between 100 and 200 years back into the past. The villagers of Šebrelje still make this cured meat product, which used to be sold mainly to the Littoral region on the Italian side, from Gorizia to Trieste. In 2004 this delicacy became the first protected Slovene food product with protected geographical indication at the national level – and it seems that there is soon going to be more of this aromatic meat delicacy on the market.

The Divje Babe cave

In the middle of a rocky slope below the Church of St. John the Baptist (St. Ivan) the main point of interest in Šebrelje is entrenched – the Divje Babe cave, now an archaeological park. The karstic cave became well-known in 1995, when during the excavations performed by Ivan Turk and Janez Dirjec from the Institute of Archaeology ZRC SAZU, an alleged Neanderthal flute was found, which is considered to be the oldest instrument in the world. It was hidden in the remains of a fire pit and is made of the thigh bone of a young cave bear. According to the most recent estimates the flute is about 55,000 years old and is kept in the National Museum of Slovenia in Ljubljana. Since 1978 the following finds have been discovered: 58 bones of animals, mostly cave bears, several hundred pieces of tools, and the remains of about thirty fire pits. Just the bones of the cave bears transported from the cave so far have weighed more than two tons.

The tourist society in the village, under the new leadership of Anja Tušar, wants to bring more visitors to the Divje Babe cave. The cave is closed from the end of October to March because of the steep access and the bats, which spend the winter inside. Visitors can also take advantage of the website, which presents the entire plateau.

And a list of famous residents from Šebrelje: Andrej Pagon-Ogarev was a journalist and a writer focusing on local studies, priest Ivan Rejec was a protagonist of national awakening between both World Wars in the Primorska region, thanks to priest Janez Lapanja a church designed by Jože Plečnik was built in the village of Ponikve, priest Otmar Černilogar was a philologist, translator, and hiker, one of the greatest Slovene alpinists was Slavc Svetičič, who died on the walls of Gasherbrum in the Himalayas, you can hear about the musical and theatre group D’Butls, and Anica Lapanja is the most frequent winner at the Idrija Lace Festival in the Idrija narrow cloth stitch technique.

Mirjam Furlan Lapanja, a former resident of Šebrelje and a language editor, who says that she is just temporarily working in Ljubljana, works according to the motto of one smart man, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

She likes the dialect of Cerkno, the standard Slovene language, films, botany, music, creative people, and everything beautiful – not always in that order. She is an avid reader, a listener, and sometimes a storyteller. She believes that people want to be good, but sometimes fears for our civilization.